2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage

2012 Cuenca Perspectives Collage


My mission in publishing this blog is first to provide a living history of my settlement and life in Cuenca, and to provide myself and the reader with a journal account delineating my reasons for why I have chosen to settle in Cuenca. Second, the posts are my way of staying in contact with family and friends back in the states, and to provide them with an understanding of a country and culture that most North Americans have little knowledge and awareness. Third, the blog is open to one and all who wish to compare and contrast the experiences of expat bloggers living in Cuenca, so that you can determine whether or not from your perspective Cuenca is an appropriate move for you. Fourth, my blog provides another example of how expats view and interpret life in Cuenca. Ecuadorians and Cuencanos who may read this blog are especially invited to post comments that may enhance all expats understanding and appreciation of Cuneca and its people, or to correct any misinterpretations in my assumptions and perceptions of Cuencano culture. Finally, I hope I can convey the feeling of love and appreciation that grows within me each passing day for this heavenly city nestled in the Andes and its very special people.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


I returned Monday evening from Mancora, Peru. a seven hour trip from Cuenca, and about two of those hours are travel time in Peru.  This was my first foray into Peru.  Over forty of us left from Cuenca riding a tourist bus on Thursday and returned early Monday evening.  Mancora, on the Pacific Ocean, is a beach town.  There was much sun and humidity, but in one respect, Mancora reminded me more of Hawaii with breezes off the ocean, and the humidity was not stifling like in Miami.   

The terrain was steep, green, lush and astoundingly beautiful on the way down as we made our way pass the outskirts of Cuenca to open spaces where the valleys and hill sides were no longer  covered in homes.  It was a very clear day that offered the sight of magnificent views, which I soaked in with my eyes wide open.  After a point the mountains became more rounded, some surfaces looked like honeycombs, then the vegetation became dry, and the mountains rugged and cliff-like, reminiscent of parts of the western United States.  As we descended from the higher elevations (Cuenca is 8,500 feet above sea level), the land became flatter and various fruit plantations were observed.  I was quite impressed with the size of the mango trees.  I learned as we rode pass banana plantations, that as the trees bear fruit, the bananas at the two month start of their appearance are wrapped in blue plastic bags to protect them from insects, squirrels, and birds, and to speed up the ripening process due to the ethylene oxide emitted by the plastic bags.  The bags in effect serve as miniature green houses.

On the other hand, what little we saw of Peru, it sure did look   poorer than the worse I've seen thus far in Ecuador.  We saw many simple homes on both sides of the border made out of bamboo in the drier areas, which looked a lot nicer than homes constructed from cement.  We also saw more goat herds along the countryside than I've seen anywhere I've traveled in Ecuador before.

The Peruvians, at least in this part of the country, in general, have a different appearance from Ecuatorianos.  Peru along with Bolivia are heavily populated by indigenous people, while the majority of Ecuatorianos are mestizos of mixed indigenous and Spaniard blood.
I found generally the Peuvians to be more round faced, darker, and somewhat heavier than their neighbors to the north.  The people in Mancora were just as open, friendly, and helpful, as we find among the Ecuatorianos.

It was fascinating to ride through the various towns in Peru including Mancora, where there were no taxis whatsoever.  The chutneys, or motorized bikes with the driver up front, and room for two or three people in the back of the buggy that was wrapped in colored plastic scampered all over the towns.  I had, to date, only experienced these vehicles in Ecuador when I was in Puerto Lopez in 2012, a beach front coastal town in Ecuador.

The resort was beautifully landscaped and enclosed.  The owner obviously knew a great deal about India or about Eastern religions, as there were Buddhas and statues of Ganesh (the Hindu god of good fortune) throughout the garden areas.  The rooms were spread out in huts of bamboo, with nothing fancy on the inside.  The bathrooms very interestingly opened up to the outside with no ceilings on them, and had live gardens in them due to the fact that it rarely ever rains in this desert-like area.  The pool was nice and  a dip into it was refreshing in the summer heat, although I would have preferred a larger pool.  Actually, the resort would make a perfect ashram for Eastern meditation, which was not about to happen with our group by any stretch of the imagination.  

We enjoyed the Pisco Sour, the Peruvian national drink.  There are many ways to make the famous Pisco Sour, so it's best to know the fundamentals. The basic formula is 3 parts pisco to 1 part simple syrup and 1 part lime juice. With that goes egg white, and a sprinkle of Angostura bitters.  Needless to say, the drink is going to be served over ice in a drink that is shaken before poured.  A white foam of about an inch forms at the top of the glass. What is Pisco you ask?  Pisco is a colorless or yellowish-to-amber colored grape brandy which is produced in the winemaking regions of Peru and Chile. My first Pisco was the best, as it was more on the sweet side.  It complemented beautifully the ceviche some of us had for lunch.  Ecuadorian ceviche is served more like a cold soup, while Peruvian ceviche is served without anything appearing to be a broth.  Personally, I enjoy both methods of ceviche preparation.  I found the Piscos served to me in other establishments to be more tart, which reminded me more of a whiskey sour, and I did not like them as well.

Many of us dined one evening on some absolutely excellent tuna that was cooked to perfection, and some great lomo fino.  I had the almond encrusted tuna, which was served medium rare.  The experience was like eating some of the best sushi imaginable.  Peru imports its beef from Argentina.  Unlike Ecuador, which butchers milk cows when they stop producing.  At least that's what I've been told.  Others propose also that cows in Ecuador are more likely to pasture on the sides of hills, and therefore, build up more sinew. Ecuadorian beef even in most of the best restaurants has a tendency toward toughness.  Peruvians also know how to cook for natural flavor, and do not as in Ecuador cook meat until all natural juices are dissipated.  I plan with friends to make a trip to Lima later in the year to experience the utterly famous gourmet delights of some of the world's best chefs.  Mancora proved to be an enticement. 

Our last evening, a group of us rode a lengthy patch of unpaved road in the chutneys to a shake, rattle, and row ride that jarred my kidneys as they have not been jarred since I rode buses with no shock-absorbers in the 70's on similar roads in India. 

The ride was well worth it.  We arrived at a hotel on the Pacific with a beautifully, luxuriously, contemporary designed restaurant, bar, and open space of leisurely seating as we watched the sun set over the Pacific.  Some in our group thought the bar and restaurant design was something one would expect to find in Malibu, California.  It very much reminded me of the many times I would sit on the beaches of Warren Dunes in Michigan and watch the sunset as well.  For dinner I had lomo fino over a type of cake mixture of ingredients of which I no longer recall.  I found both the medallions of steak to be very tender and succulent and the cake-type mound to be delicious. The evening was a perfect complement to an overall enjoyable five days. 

As I think back.  I remember the very pretty, sweet young lady who waited on our table at the Tex-Mex restaurant and always gave me a smile. I remember the young man from Columbia who served my friend and me at "Green Eggs and Ham" as we wiled away the afternoon overlooking the beach, the people, and all the activities.  Our waiter spoke very good English and would intersperse between customers opportunities to speak with us, and ultimately took his break time to sit with us and tell us all about his home town of Medellin, Columbia.  A city that not all that long ago was a hotspot of Cocaine trafficking and violence, and now is being championed as a place for retirement--a city that is looking to the future rather than attempting to preserve its past.  The young waiter who was so eager about life and had such a wanderlust to travel certainly convinced me to move a visit to Medellin up on my list of priorities for travel in South America.  Then there was the young man at the restaurant where we had such wonderful tuna or in some cases osso buco, and the young man at the hotel restaurant on our last evening; both of whom were so efficient, knew how to handle gringos with finesse and charm, and were a pleasure to have them provide us with such personal service.

We were not given a great deal of detail about the full itinerary of the trip.  Therefore, I decided not to bring my camera or my laptop with me.  I did not know what the security factors would be like.  I also transferred telephone companies the day before we traveled, and my phone would not be working until tomorrow again (Manana, we shall see.). I have no photos to share.  Neither do I recall, nor did I make an effort to write down the name of the hotel or the restaurants, or the resort.  It was just nice to enjoy old and new friends and acquaintances.  Due to circumstances beyond my control, I could not get Internet access as well at the public Internet tiendas, which proved to be another luxury.  For a few days life was somewhat slower-paced, leisurely, and more simple.  This once again is one of the reasons why living in Cuenca is so nice.  It makes a strategic way station in the visit to other parts of South America and the Caribbeans.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


There is so much to be positive where Ecuador and especially Cuenca are concerned.  However, quite frankly, I find the Ecuadorian Postal Service to increasingly becoming egregiously inefficient and incompetent.  Some would argue it always has been.

I have frequently heard complaints from various expats as well as Ecuadorians about the service.  Nevertheless, in my case, I found the postal service to be quite good my first two years in Cuenca in 2011 and 2012.  I had the advantage of living in the Palermo, which is a prominent address any postal worker would know without a full address, and mail was always delivered right to the building.  When I first moved into the Palermo, I was told by some residents that I would need to pickup my mail at the El Centro post office, which I believe is the only post office in the city.  Other residents suggested I rent a post office box at the post office.  However, I quickly discovered that I always received any package or letter directly at the Palermo, and within two weeks.  In turn, anything I mailed to the U.S. would arrive there in two weeks.  Only once in 2011 was there a problem when my aunt sent a Christmas card in early December of 2010 and I did not receive it until mid-February of 2011.  Otherwise, I was very pleased with the service.

In 2013 the mail delivery began to deteriorate, especially toward the end of the year.  Letters and small bubble-wrapped packages began to take longer to arrive, and for the current year of 2014, delivery has become abhorrent.  Not only has delivery become abhorrent, but also has service.  There use to be two people working the windows at the Cuenca Post Office where letters and packages are to be mailed.  Now, there is only one person, and when busy, it is not uncommon to have fifteen to twenty-five people in line, and no one stepping forth to help until the lines dwindle.  In fact, if a second person is there, they just sit there staring at the computer doing God knows what.

Last June, I sent a letter to U.S. Social Security as requested by them.  I traveled to the states in September and returned to Cuenca in the middle of October.  I had a follow-up letter from the Social Security office as a second notice which requested the same information.  This time I made a copy of the June form, and updated the October form, and sent it registered mail with tracking.  Four dollars for postage, because the envelope size was larger than the normal envelope and the weight was more, and the cost was eleven dollars for the tracking.  

Lo and behold, in the modern world of Ecuadorian computers, I would type in my code on my receipt to check the tracking status.  The system could not come up with my item.  I finally after two weeks went into the post office, and spent half an hour waiting while the postal workers attempted to locate my tracking item.  Finally, I was called back upstairs, and fortunately an articulate young man who spoke very good English and was waiting for service was able to translate for me, since no one in the office spoke English, and we were at the point of explanation that exceeded my understanding of Spanish.  I was given a form to fill out.  I was told because of the holidays, I might as well not bring the form in until next week, since many postal workers would not be working.  Once the lady received my form, I would need to wait seventy-two hours, while it was determined whether or not they could locate my tracking form.  I asked the young man to ask the employee, if they could not locate my tracking code would I receive a refund.  After he asked the lady, he sort of shook his head toward me, shrugged his shoulders, and said maybe.  (Which in Ecuadorian means "probably not"; or if you wish to pursue it, we will have an entirely new slew of forms for you to fill out requesting a refund.)

I took the postal form home, and when I finally began to fill it out, I discovered I had to give a destination address.  Since the form sent to the U.S. Social Security office was in a printed envelope provided by them, I didn't pay close attention as to which office it was sent.  I discovered in my personal Social Security file envelope addresses to Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Kansas.  None of them had a post mark date on them.  I had no idea what the destination was, so I didn't bother to submit the form to the Ecuadorian postal authorities, and just ate the fourteen dollar loss.

I made copies of both my June and October forms.  Picked the two most likely addresses that may have sent me the Social Security forms, and my friends agreed to mail both letters in Houston as they arrived there.  Oftentimes on Gringo Post and Gringo Tree there will be expats asking for or offering to take mail from Cuenca and mail it in the United States, which is just further examples of how untrustworthy the Ecuadorian Postal Service functions.  

I ordered a product in late November of 2013, which when ordered in the past arrived in two weeks in one of those bubble envelopes, and required no tax.  This time it took two months to arrive.  I ordered another package which was shipped out of the U.S. on December 11th, and has yet to arrive.  The same package ordered the same time of the year in 2011 and 2012 arrived within two weeks, and yes, delivered directly to the Palermo.  

My youngest brother sent me some important documentation, which I received today.  It took five weeks to arrive.  My other brother sent me a Christmas card which arrived two weeks ago toward the end of January.  He also sent me a birthday card, the week before he sent the Christmas card.  It still has not arrived.
Yes, I know my brother needs to learn how to use electronic ecards, which can even be sent free, and that will take care of that problem.  It's sad when I hear expats say, "While just don't use the mail system.  We don't."  

Today, I finally trekked down to the post office to see if from the manifest I spent last night creating for them, if they could locate any of my mail listed which I had not received.  I never even received local monthly statements of my telephone bills in November and December, although I did receive a statement for January just this week. The problem, therefore, is not just with International mail, but with local mail in Cuenca not being delivered as well.  People suggested to me to go directly to the post office and check, because sometimes mail just sits in the mail room and doesn't get delivered, which is how some friends of mine procured their undelivered mail.  No mail found, and nothing in the computer of mail-on-hand with my name and address on it.

Anybody considering a move to Ecuador, and has followed the blogs are well aware of the slowness and over-bureaucratization of both Ecuadorian governmental services and private services.  I know in previous posts, I have warned that you must develop the patience beyond sainthood to deal with the endless red-tape that makes up Ecuadorian government and business practices.  I am absolutely convinced that the word "paper" and the words "multiple copies", and the word, "manana" have their origin deeply embedded somewhere in the Canari/Spanish socio-linquistic, and psychological make up of the Ecuadorian culture

I am well aware of cultural differences, and I certainly do not expect Ecuador to become a mini-United States.  I also literally am awe-strucked at the incredible patience and politeness that Ecuadorians exhibit as they wait in these endless lines.  I'm retired.  I am also fortunate that a number of my bills can be paid electronically.  Most Ecuadorians don't have that opportunity.  I don't know how these people manage it all, and work as well.  I have nothing but the greatest admiration for them.

I have chosen to make the Postal Service the focus of my attention for the following reason.  Thirty-eight years ago, I traveled throughout India for nine weeks.  In those days, the postal systems had these little, flimsy blue envelopes whereby you would write a message on one side and then fold the paper into four, lick the adhesive, and address the outside of the little blue envelope.  I thought how on earth is this letter ever going to find its way back to the United States or vice-versa?  

I could also write long letters, and mail them home in regular type envelopes, at obviously a more expensive price.  I wrote the letters of my magnificent experiences in India almost on a nightly basis;  one night to my mother, who could share my correspondence with the family, and on the other night to my mentor.  Everyone of those letters, including the little blue ones arrived in the U.S.A. within two weeks.  Years later both my mother and my mentor unbeknown to me had saved all my  correspondence and returned the letters to me, which I still have to this day.  I can tell you that the India of 1976 was extremely primitive compared to most of Ecuador today, particularly where the populations are concentrated.  Now I ask you, why was India able to operate a more efficient postal service in the 1970's than Ecuador can operate today?  

President Correa has pledged that his administration this year would focus on stream-lining the bureaucracy, and cutting through the red tape.  May I suggest to the President, that he has his administration concentrate on a complete overhaul of the Postal System.  Define what the problems are, and what it will take to resolve them, so that Ecuador has a postal system that begins to move into a first world status.  I genuinely wish you luck, Mr. President.  Bureaucracies certainly do not change simply by Presidential decrees and acts of Congress.  Bureaucracies ignore laws and policies until outside forces will no longer let them play that game, and force them to change.